Zoning for Flood Resilience


  • Different flood risk profiles lead to different planning and zoning outcomes

  • Identifying types of zoning rules that conflict with flood-resilience goals

  • A toolbox of zoning changes to facilitate flood-resilient retrofitting of existing buildings and allow new development to proceed safely and without hindrance in flood zones


Planners from Norfolk, Va., and New York explain how they tailored zoning regulations to reduce flood risk. As one of the East Coast cities most at risk from sea-level rise, Norfolk strives to lead the way on adaptation. Building on Vision 2100—the city’s comprehensive, long-term strategy for addressing sea-level rise—Norfolk is rewriting its zoning code to weave resilience into its land-use decisions. Among its objectives? Proposing an overlay zoning district to apply in areas at highest risk of recurrent flooding that will place stricter requirements on new development while encouraging resilient adaptations.

New York has more than 71,000 buildings in the flood zone, and 80,000 were within the area inundated by Hurricane Sandy. The city responded to the need to rebuild after the hurricane and to new FEMA flood maps by adopting new zoning rules specifically for flood zones. These new zoning rules removed regulatory obstacles to retrofitting existing buildings and facilitated the design of new buildings to these new higher standards. These new rules include modifications to height limits, yards, floor area ratio, and special exemptions from documentation requirements for older buildings.